Controversy erupts over mock lunar lander contest

A rival team is crying foul after a competitor's mock lunar lander was allowed to make an extra flight, putting it in first place for a $1 million prize. But a spokesman for the X Prize Foundation, which organised the competition, said no rules were broken.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander ChallengeMovie Camera is intended to promote innovative ideas for a new generation of vehicles that could land humans on the moon.

It is divided into two levels. For the lesser $350,000 level 1 prize, a rocket must rise 50 metres from its launch pad, move 100 metres horizontally and land on a concrete pad, staying in the air for a total of at least 90 seconds. It must then repeat the feat, returning to its starting point within 2.5 hours. Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace won that prize in October 2008.

To qualify for the $1 million level 2 prize, a rocket must make a similar flight, but this time it must stay aloft for 180 seconds and land on a bumpy surface that simulates that of the moon.

Armadillo became the first team to qualify for the prize in September.

But on Friday, Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, was poised to wrest the prize from Armadillo, after making qualifying flights that outperformed its rival in landing accuracy.

While Armadillo's vehicle landed on average 90 centimetres from its target in the second-level tests, Masten's two Friday flights appeared to be only about 25 centimetres away, according to William Pomerantz of the X Prize Foundation. Judges have yet to release official numbers for the Masten flights.


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